Can you save electricity? Is it worth it?

When summer comes hot, as it usually is in Taiwan, the local electricity company takes advantage of the extra demand by increasing the electricity price. At this time of year, everyone becomes more conscious of the electricity that their family or business use.

In Taiwan, domestic electricity consumption during most of the year is limited (domestically) to lights, occasional heating, refrigerators and floor fans. Entertainment appliances also comprise a part of the local usage patterns: including pcs, hifi and tv.

In our business, it’s a little different, though. Air conditioning, lights and pcs/printers consume most of the power. There is additional power required for the refrigerator and water machine. Other than that, there’s not much else.

In either case, saving electricity is a case of diminishing returns. Initially changing light bulbs to low-watt long lasting equivalents will reduce power consumption by about about 60%. Cleaning and maintaining newer ACs while replacing older ones will also help reduce power consumption somewhat. Perhaps even substituting notebooks for regular desktops will cut power consumption, as the LCDs use less power, and notebooks are typically designed with energy saving features.

Changing habits can also effectively cut power consumption. Again, though, there is a law of diminishing returns. Closing doors to retain cool air, making sure that obvious ‘leaks’ are reduced or eliminated can also help. Turning off ACs when no-one is in the room for more than five minutes, as well as lights, can help save power. Making sure that computers, or at least monitors, are all set to implement power savings, as well as printers and photocopiers.

But, and for a business, it’s a big but. If you wish to work effectively, and run your business effectively, managing your cost structure is a vital part of an effective defense strategy. However, should your energy policy start to affect your business in a negative way, then you really need to make sure that your priorities aren’t missing the point.

A good example we faced: we replaced all the old incandescent bulbs we could find. The result was a little more expensive than we expected, but it did control our bill effectively. Then we started closing the front door of our office to minimize AC loss. A VERY effective strategy to save power, BUT quickly we noticed that customers weren’t really coming into the office anymore. The customers typically waited to pick up their children after class was finished.

So we started to see that we were losing a vital part of our interaction with customers by closing the door. We compromised by limiting the hours for opening the door, so we could achieve some reduction in the waste, but we realized that we couldn’t eliminate that source of waste WITHOUT our business being affected in a negative way. Unfortunately, the layout of our office area is not optimal for us, but we can’t do anything to change that: it’s rented. More importantly, though, came the realization that the more effort we put into saving money, the less effort was expended on maintaining the business.

We could have gone much further in cutting our usage of electricity but it would have a tremendous impact on how managed our business. We might save about 50% or more of our power budget, BUT we might lose a lot more than the 50% we saved!  What is called for is a sensible policy of energy waste reduction, one that encompasses responsible saving, gradual implementation, and education on both the positives and negatives.